Student Voices

Aaron - University of the Pacific

Three homicides in a half hour. I’m in the “The Bloody Six.” I see the abandoned child care center we will temporarily call home, battered down houses, a person walking by with a shopping cart filled with his life possessions, and signs around the whole block that read “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” This is where I will spend my spring break. Though only a short flight away, I have landed in a completely different world. We had come to rebuild New Orleans, but as the reality of the devastation set in I was shocked and afraid for us.

I live in a place where grades are more important than gangs. Where it is not unusual to see BMW’s in my high school parking lot. Nothing could be farther than the Katrina ravaged reality in New Orleans. On my first day, I went on a tour around the city to witness the destruction. It is a vast ghost town. The tour guide told me that half the population is still missing and the government and state have done nothing to rebuild the area. She tells us the only help they receive is from volunteers. Hearing this empowered me to take on the challenge at hand.

Our trip to New Orleans was organized by my temple, Rodef Sholom. As a young boy I attended the Jewish Community Center where I learned about the Jewish faith. At the age of thirteen, I had my Bar Mitzvah and became a man. To be a man means to take on responsibilities and perform mitzvoth (good deeds). Going to New Orleans was the mitzvoth I chose to perform because I wanted to help rebuild a community.

We started with full scale demolition of the interior of a damaged house. We had to decide what was garbage and what was worth saving. I thought we would be searching for jewelry, money, televisions, computers, and ipods. Instead we dug for pictures, letters, and small mementos that had meaning to the owner. I realized when all is lost, hope can come from the simplest things.

New Orleans helped me to discover a world searching for hope, and a community struggling for justice. Each day, the locals would stop and thank us for our help. Every thank you reminded me that the hurricane hadn’t destroyed everything. It was inspiring to see people be so considerate when they could be justly bitter about having been left to suffer and seen as refugees in their own country. The trip has inspired me to expand my volunteer efforts and become more committed to performing mitzvoth in my own community. Going to the “Bloody Six” opened my eyes to the struggle here at home and enabled me to realize I have the power to effect change. As I head off to college, I can’t wait to expand my knowledge so I can continue to perform the mitzvot that the world needs more of.